On Hearing The Music of the Ainur

Those who have been reading my Blog that seeks to distil wisdom from The Lord of the Rings will know that I have been reading the text carefully and then reflecting upon what I find there. I happen to think that Tolkien was a man of profound insight. I also think that he was an explorer and that what he discovered in his creation often surprised him. So it is that what we find when we read his work is not a carefully worked out philosophy imposed upon a narrative structure although Tolkien’s Christian faith is a springboard that is absolutely necessary for his explorations. Tolkien genuinely did not know in advance what his characters would do as the story developed. I think that is the reason why it took him so long to write his work. And perhaps one of the reasons why The Lord of the Rings speaks so powerfully to the modern mind is that none of its characters is capable of, or presumes to speak, authoritatively of God or the ultimate mystery of being and of life. You get the impression that Gandalf may know more than most but he does not tell. All that we learn from him is that there is a mystery that gives meaning to all that each character in the story chooses to do.

It was back in January 2013 that I wrote about Frodo in the halls of Elrond of Rivendell. At that time I wrote the Blog on my website http://stephenwinter.net/page6.htm#131194 and in that posting wrote about Frodo’s “dream of music that turned into running water, and then suddenly into a voice”. Music is Tolkien’s metaphor for the unfolding of history, one that he unfolds most fully in the first chapter of The Silmarillion, The Music of the Ainur. The Ainur are the angelic beings whose task it is to work with God (Ilúvatar) in the governing of his creation. I do not think therefore that Frodo’s “dream of music” is an accidental detail in the story. He connects for a moment with the Great Music and also with the Great Story for the voice that he hears as he emerges from the dream is Bilbo’s as he chants his own telling of the tale of The Voyage of Eärendil that is chapter 24 of The Silmarillion. Later when he takes the Ring at The Council of Elrond Frodo declares his own Yes to the Music and the Story. He cannot himself control the story to which he says Yes although because he bears the Ring of Power he is tempted to believe that he has the capacity to do this but he is carried by the story and by the music from the moment of choosing until the fulfilment of the choice at the Cracks of Mt Doom.

At the ending of one year and the opening of another I wanted to return to this story in Rivendell from my reflections at the ruined gates of Isengard. For we cannot drift aimlessly through life as if there were nothing to be discovered, no commitments to be made. When I started writing this Blog I intended to reflect on composers and writers who I believe to have made a connection to the Great Music and the Great Story and if my readers are interested then I will try to do so next week before returning to Isengard and to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli as they are reunited with Merry and Pippin. Here I will just say that if 2015 is to be fruitful then it will be because of the commitments we make to the Music and the Story. If we are true to the wisdom of The Lord of the Rings then we will not seek to make authoritative statements about the Mystery but in our own commitments we will seek it out. It is because of his search that Frodo hears the music and the story in the halls of Elrond, that Merry and Pippin meet the Ents in the forest of Fangorn, that Gimli finds understanding in the words of Galadriel and heart breaking beauty in the caves of Aglarond. If we remain true to our own search then we too will find such wonders. You may remind me that I should not forget Frodo and Sam in Shelob’s lair or Merry and Pippin as prisoners of the orcs for if we are true to our Yes then our journey will take us to such places as well but what it will not be is some aimless and meaningless drifting. It will be a true adventure of Joy and Sorrow. We will be men and women who are fully alive.

29 thoughts on “On Hearing The Music of the Ainur

  1. “When I started writing this Blog I intended to reflect on composers and writers who I believe to have made a connection to the Great Music and the Great Story and if my readers are interested then I will try to do so next week before returning to Isengard and to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli as they are reunited with Merry and Pippin.”

    This reader is very interested. I love the notion of “saying yes to the music” here. Another lovely post.

  2. “it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him.”

    Reading your blog posts a couple of things that strike me are the recurring references to seeking, and to truly engaging with ones senses in what surrounds us. Also the strength of songs and music, that underpin us in our journey and identity.

    I hope I’m not wandering from the point too far with the following offering…

    I have been known to say that I believe music to be one of the greatest arts, not only because it largely transcends language and time, but also because it is so deeply entwined with our life experience and is so accessible across several senses. Like many things in life, it is easy indeed to dismiss the songs – to have them as “background music”: to half-experience them.

    Music as rhythm and pitch enfold us from before we are born, by heartbeats and by the pitch of our loved ones’ voices as they resonate in the womb. Later we may be stirred by the low vibration of a huge organ pipe in a cathedral, and its attendant feelings of awe. We may be uplifted and thrilled by the thinner, tighter, resonance of a soaring violin. We tell our poetry in metre, or not, as the use of rhythm adds and invokes so much meaning. We can feel “out of tune” and feel the ease of tension in a resolved discord. It is important if we are to be in tune with life that we are open to feel the music that surrounds us in the most intimate way – only by truly connecting can we truly experience. In singing in particular we internalise this resonance, rhythm and pitch. We turn the very air we breathe, by the addition of our emotion and connection, into a great expression that can cover emotion, culture, history. When we sing our songs (literally or metaphorically) we connect with the tapestry harmony of creation.

    It being Christmastide someone recently sent me a Nativity play. The Lord was sending his Son to our world, and the angels were desperate to celebrate. The question they asked first to communicate and celebrate was “may we sing to him? Please may we sing?”. This touched the Lord’s heart.

    So yes, I agree about the importance of seeking the Great Music of creation. May I presume to add my hope to yours, Stephen, that we all sing our song and connect our songs this year?

  3. Thank you for such a wonderful comment. I have been thinking about it for a few days. In many ways I hope that my next blog will be a response to all you have written here. Your reflection on “seeking” seems particularly poignant as I write this on The Feast of the Epiphany.

  4. “If we are true to the wisdom of The Lord of the Rings then we will not seek to make authoritative statements about the Mystery but in our own commitments we will seek it out.”
    I have rarely heard/someone say this in so concise and striking a manner. All I can say is, Yes! It took me a while to learn this lesson, and given my habit of forgetting and re-learning things, I may have to learn it again and again, but I do agree.

    When I had my greatest (and hopefully last, it was a horrible experience) crisis of faith, I did not talk to anyone about it… and not because I was afraid to. I have family and friends with whom I can talk about anything, a gift for which I am utterly grateful. No, I was silent because I knew, somewhere deep, that I had to find my own answers, and that I had to do it alone. Somehow, though there are many journeys that ought to be made in fellowship, there are also some that must be made alone.

    Once I’d made that dark and utterly lonely (without even God, one really is alone, for everything is separated from you by flesh, as if one is wrapped in saran-wrap, close, but ever-separated) journey, and come out into the light, I knew that, though I could talk to others about what I had experienced, my answers were just that. My answers. They might resonate with others, but they would never translate. Some things, I think, are like that… and if we make the mistake of thinking that God speaks to all men in the same way, or that He gives all the same revelations, we will only alienate our own brothers and sisters.

    That is what I get from this post, and now you have a long-winded agreement. ^_^

    • I was really nervous about how that statement would be received. We seem to live in an age in which when speaking publicly it seems to be required of us that we are absolutely certain about everything. We make this demand of politicians, business leaders and religious leaders.
      You describe your own experience with great power. Have you ever written about it anywhere? You are right when you say that your answers are God’s word to you and to you alone. But I think the experience of being taken to the place where God can speak is one that can be shared. I am struck that Paul in 2 Cor 12 cannot speak either of his ecstatic experience or his “thorn in the flesh” (he has to use a metaphor) but he is able to speak of the sufficiency of God’s grace. And Meister Eckhart said “I never ask God to give himself to me: I beg him to to purify me, to empty me. If I am empty, God of his very nature is obliged to give himself to me.” I rather think that for most of us the emptying is something that “happens” to us. Few of us ask for it. I rather think that it “happened” to you. What was so powerful in what you wrote is that you were able to somehow trust the experience. For so many pain is something bad, to be avoided, something that we must flee from. So many are sure that God can only deal in light, in the daytime, in certainty. You found God (“My answers”!) in the darkness, aloneness and without any of the props of what we once thought to be faith.
      Thank you so much for telling your story. I am so glad to have met you. The internet has brought many dangers to us but also enables friendships around the world to grow in a way that is quite new. We do not yet know where that will take us but something new is being born here.

  5. I, too, thought that phrase extremely powerful – but hadn’t the courage of Jubilare to shape my response into words. Thank you both for these comments.

    I feel too that in one’s own journey one must come to one’s own answers. Each of us have our own journeys to make, but God is immense enough to encompass all. We, on the other hand, can only discover part by part, in a mirror, dimly. To seek to learn by looking through reflections refracted by others is often helpful, but there are times when we must go beyond that. I am often comforted by the oft repeated assertion of Aslan in C S Lewis’ Narnia that each of us have our own story (and not each other’s). Fellowship in faith is hugely important, but we are offered a personal relationship with God. This puts a whole new dimension on how we must move forward. And as we grow and change we surely find we must seek to reconnect and grow further and often re ask, and wait, and resolve again. Just as the Music moves forward through harmony, discord and resolutions, cadence and da capo ever toward, but not yet reaching that final Coda. Even the suspensions are part of the whole. One person’s experience and understanding is never quite the same as another – critics argue all the time – although there is value in that discussion. Our connections come from our own experiences, and what we bring to the questions can be as key as are the answers when they come.

    For me, the key is the seeking.

    • Beautifully put. I especially love this: “We, on the other hand, can only discover part by part, in a mirror, dimly.” Dimly, indeed.
      It’s almost as if we are each equipped with a single candle, and it only illuminates a little at a time. Sometimes God shines more light around us, but never, it seems, for very long. Sometimes, someone else’s candle illuminates something for us, too, if we let it.
      It’s a wonder, indeed, that we have common experiences at all! And when we do, they are so very valuable. It’s strange, though, that we seem to expect others’ experiences to line up with our own more than they do. I wonder why that is.

      And yes. Seeking, always seeking! I cling to the promise “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matt 7:7

    • Rowan Williams once gave a series of addresses in Holy Week on Narnia in which he emphasised those words of Aslan, “I will not tell you any other story but your own” calling to mind the story in the gospels when Peter asks Jesus what is going to happen to John & Jesus replies using pretty much those same words. It takes some courage to ask Jesus to tell us only our own story.

  6. Of course, as you say… One of the other keys is in accepting the mysteriousness of Mystery. In these days of 140 characters we often seek too much to define and set boundaries and receive answers that are perhaps beyond comprehension….

  7. Really good thoughts here. My twopenn’orth:

    ‘I feel as if I was inside a song’ says Sam in Lorien. ‘Inside a song’ being a literal translation of ‘enchanted’. Because Lorien is unstained, it retains a stronger echo of The Music.

    Likewise the house of Tom Bombadil is so *enchanting* that the hobbits find it easier to sing than to speak.

    But there is Bad Music as well as Good. As I see it, goodness in Arda is harmonious and diverse (ie. reflective of the Music), whereas evil is a harsh, braying, power-seeking monotone (as was Melkor’s counter-music). Hence the diverse range of goodnesses on view in LotR, and the repetitive nature of evil (from Sauron and Saruman to Lotho).

    The application for me, as far as there is one, is to be enchanted, but to be aware that power-hungry evil can be just as enchanting as humble, melodious harmony.

    • I do agree with you that Lotho is a miserable expression of the same theme as Sauron and Saruman. Also that Sauron is no more than is Lotho or Gollum for that matter except in degree of power. I also love your references to places of song in The Lord of the Rings. The only song that I can think of sung by the orcs is by the goblins who capture the dwarfs in the Misty Mountains in The Hobbit.
      I have been trying to think about my own experience of music and cannot really think of any music that I would describe as evil. I know there was a time when many church folk thought that of rock and roll (Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll as Ian Dury put it provocatively as was his wont!) Maybe that is why certain expressions of Islam think that all music is evil (e.g, the Taliban in Afghanistan). It is too hard to distinguish between kinds of music. Illuvatar takes the risk of allowing all music trusting that all will end as harmony.

      • These words have been much in my mind the last few days… I had never really thought of Music before in terms of something that could be good or evil.

        I cannot think of any music that is intrinsically evil… I can think of many instances where it has been used to disguise or incite evil… But that is a different thing. I also cannot think of a way in which even that evil use can come to permanently own music.

        My first response was “what an honour and responsibility, then, to be a musician!”… But then, as I have said before, we are ALL musicians! So the honour and responsibility is for all.

        I think perhaps the way you talked about the Greater music in your original post has touched me even more deeply now…. And to remember we cannot control the story, from this context of warping it for evil, is very thought provoking…

      • My father could never listen to Bruckner because of the way Hitler used his music. Free from that association I love Bruckner’s music.
        You might like to read my comment in reply to Michelle Joelle’s comment on “A Christ-haunted People…” You will see that I am struggling with the question of meaning in music. My daughter just sent me her essay on Schoenberg for whom this was a major question.

      • I realise that’s not actually what you meant when you referred to not controlling it… It’s more where my thoughts had led from what you said in this comment…

        I use too many words! I think the concept I’m after is really quite simple, but like all simple things it’s hard to capture in words.

  8. The cultural trends seem to be getting more and more divisive, and in a divisive atmosphere, people find doubt and the acknowledgement of personal limitations either weak or threatening. It breaks my heart.

    Ah, I’ve not written about my experiences in terms of a blog-post, or anything. The reason is that it’s still very raw, and I have spoken with a few people who try and explain it away, which hurts more than I think I can bear.

    I have, and do, talk about it on a one-on-one basis. People who, as you say, “are sure that God can only deal in light, in the daytime, in certainty,” and who might need that conviction shaken, and people who, facing their own darkness, need to hear that others have passed through and survived. And sometimes, just people who have experienced something similar and need, like I do, the comfort of a “you too?”

    I asked to be broken because I realized that if I remained in my comfort zone, I wouldn’t change much. It was a terrifying thing to ask, I still don’t know where I got the courage to do so, save from the Spirit. It was barely out of my mouth before I wanted to take it back.
    A few years later, I broke myself. I’m a fairly intelligent and well-educated person, with an inquisitive mind and an obsessive nature. I like to test things and to question, and I was finally confronted with the necessity to analyze my own faith. Am I right to believe in God? I sort of knew what I would find. I knew the question was too big for me, but I had to throw myself against it to be sure. I broke myself trying to see if it was possible for me to find a definitive answer.

    Stripped of my ability to believe in God, but still struggling with the question, I slipped into a depression so severe that I stopped registering color, taste and smell. It lasted for over a year, during which I was tormented, I now believe, by the Enemy, though I was unable to believe in him, and unable to cry out to God. Some people face horrible external torment. I guess, given my bent, it makes sense that my greatest torment so far was self-inflicted. For all that I did it to my self, I don’t feel like I had any choice. The alternative was to live a lie, acting as if I had sought my own answers when I had done nothing of the kind.

  9. When I came to the end of that personal hell, I was spent. The end was a crossroad, a realization that there is no way to completely prove or disprove the existence of God, which left me with nothing but a choice. Take a step of faith one way or the other. Obviously, I chose Jesus. My reasons were manifold, but ultimately, I knew that the world I wanted to live in was His world, not the alternative (I only had two alternatives, Christianity and atheism, no other faith presented itself as a viable option to me).

    So… that is where I am. I had to find the limitations of my own mind in order to be humbled. I had to be humbled in order to have faith. I had to know that there are far more questions than answers, and that our freedom to chose lies in those questions. Doubt is the only medium in which we can take things on trust, the only medium where faith can exist. I have the proof I need in Christ, but I know that it is only proof to me, and I only gained it by admitting that proof was beyond my reach.

    😛 Quite the paradox, but then you obviously understand, like I’ve come to understand, that the mystery is nothing to be feared. ^_^

    So there you have it. My little story so far. It’s by no means ended.

  10. Thought provoking writing, Jubilare

    “It’s almost as if we are each equipped with a single candle, and it only illuminates a little at a time. Sometimes God shines more light around us, but never, it seems, for very long. Sometimes, someone else’s candle illuminates something for us, too, if we let it.”

    And sometimes our candles flicker very faintly in the gloom – as Stephen said in his original post –
    “if we are true to our Yes then our journey will take us to such places as well”. It is a point though that Music without dissonance can be meaningless not sweet – the sweetness comes with all the more clarity and brightness in the resolution. I do not say that at all lightly, believe me. We all have our journeys, and they are none of them easy at times.

    But there is hope that there is indeed a candle… A light shall shine in the darkness, and the darkness can not overcome it. Perhaps the candle is sufficient unto the day…

    • Aye!

      Are you familiar with the writings of George MacDonald? I don’t know what it is, maybe something about the way you put things, but I think you would like his work. Heaven knows I do, and so did C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. 🙂

  11. ‘I feel as if I was inside a song’ says Sam in Lorien. ‘Inside a song’ being a literal translation of ‘enchanted’. Because Lorien is unstained, it retains a stronger echo of The Music.

    Wow! Mr. David Rowe, that made me think.

    And yet, I wonder…. I am no LOTR scholar like Stephen, but I think I recall that Galadriel suffered and struggled with her own desire for wielding the One Ring… And overcame it.

    I wonder if the Music is so strong and sweet because it understands both sides of the question, but in age and wisdom it has found a way to join in singing the weaving harmony rather than the discord. Through the purifying, if you like, although that seems a very big word…. Perhaps as much enraptured as enchanted…?

    • I don’t think of myself as a scholar of LOTR and I promise you that is not false modesty. I decided not to write a scholarly work in writing this blog but a personal reflection.
      On Galadriel I agree with you about her suffering and struggle. Galadriel was tempted to the very limit of her strength to take the Ring and her victory of that temptation robbed the world of the enchanted beauty of Lothlorien (to follow David Rowe’s use of that word). There is nothing more poignant that than loss in all of Tolkien’s work and it may be his most original and powerful spiritual insight.

    • Watch out for abridged/edited versions. His raw works can be a bit dense, but they are far better than the mauled ones.

      For fiction, The Princess and the Goblin, and The Princess and Curdie are my favorites, but Phantastese was Lewis’s. I’ve never met anything of his, though, that wasn’t good. 🙂

  12. I, too, am now pondering the question of evil music. …I tend towards the feeling that there is no such thing, but that our reactions to music can be good or evil… I’ve noticed, for instance, that if I am in rocky spiritual territory, I have a hard time deriving good from any music, even hymns or gorgeous pieces or instrumental music. Whereas, when I am in a good place, I can hear, in music that has quite the opposite intent, that brokenness and desire for God that the singer never meant to reveal. …Pretty much every friend I have who doesn’t share my faith would be angry to hear me say this, though I think they know I believe it, but all human art, even all human endeavor, points, whether it wishes to or not, towards humanity’s need for God.

  13. Pingback: Happy Tolkien Reading Day | Stories & Soliloquies

  14. Pingback: Sam asks “Don’t the Great Tales Never End?” | Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings

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